30 Aug Is club soda or seltzer water ok for my teeth?
This is a question we’re asked on occasion at the office in Center City Philadelphia. It’s usually discussed during a hygiene exam when we review nutrition and diet, and it’s typically brought up this way (the best patients in Philadelphia ask the best dentists in Philadelphia the best questions, I suppose): “I don’t drink soda, but I do drink Seltzer. Is that ok?”
This is a question that’s near and dear to me. As a Dentist in Philadelphia who loves carbonation, I find myself reaching for a zero calorie carbonated beverage every single day. Like many of our patients, I don’t do “soda” in the conventional sense – no coke, pepsi, sprite, etc. Most often I reach for a bottle of Polar – the limited edition summer flavors are a real showstopper – and I think about my pearly whites every time.
So are we in the clear if we stay with the clear (and calorie-free) drinks? I hate to break it to you, but the answer is no – at least not really. To understand why, it’s important to briefly review what causes the breakdown of tooth structure. Most commonly, patients think of tooth breakdown as tooth decay. Here’s how that works: sugar in our mouth is digested by bacteria that create acid as a byproduct. And there’s another key way we lose tooth structure – the process loosely referred to as erosion.
Enamel, the outer structure of our teeth, is the hardest substance in our body. It is, however, susceptible to breakdown in the presence of acid. We gauge how acidic a liquid is by measuring pH. The lower the pH, the more acidic the environment. In a very low pH environment, tooth structure literally dissolves. We know that a pH below 5.5 in the mouth enables tooth loss/decay. It turns out that, although there is no sugar in club soda, the carbonation itself decreases the pH from 7 (water) to around 6. Add in the flavoring agents commonly found in flavored seltzers, and the pH drops to around 5. Philadelphia dentists do not like to see a pH that low – we don’t want our patients to lose tooth structure. Once it’s gone, it doesn’t grow back.
I’m a dentist for everyone, a dentist for Philadelphia executives, and a dentist for Philadelphia employees, all tooth structure is the same. The bottom line is clear: be careful when you drink any sort of carbonated beverages.